Friday, May 30, 2014

Movie Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past - It's Bad! by Phantom Troublemaker

***SPOILERS – You kind of have to have seen the movie to read this anyway. I don’t run down the whole plot, so this isn’t so much my recommendation on whether or not you should see the movie as it is my thoughts on it as a whole. As far as my recommendation – go see it. Everybody seems to love it. Everybody else, that is.***

I don’t want to write this review because everybody else seems to have loved this movie and I thought it pretty much sucked. Like, worse than The Last Stand but not as bad as Origins: Wolverine.

I don’t feel bad or wrong for not liking this movie. I hate that I don’t like it because I wanted to love it. But the things that weren’t good were unbelievably not good and far overpowered the things that were good. That’s saying a lot because the things that were good were almost perfect.

Before I get any further, I want to make it clear that it has been a long time since I read Days of Future Past. I think I was in high school. I intentionally didn’t go back and read it before seeing this movie because that is almost always a bad idea. I’m pretty fuzzy on the particulars of the plot and I’m honestly not sure how closely the movie sticks to the comic. I’ve heard it’s close. I wanted to go back and read it before writing this, but it looks like my trade is one of the many casualties of too many moves, too many roommates, or flooding. By the time you read this I should have a copy (it should be easy enough to get one right now, right?) and will update if needed.

I’m just going to dive right into my problems with the movie. While I’ve mentioned how much I disliked it on Facebook, I have been saving specifics for here because I’ve got posts to write. I can’t be giving this stuff away for free, people.

Wait a minute…


My first issue is with the utter lack of character building and weak explanations of everybody’s motivations. This extended to every character in the movie that they bothered to have deliver more than one line of dialogue. 
 
What was Bolivar Trask’s problem with mutants? I mean, he said it a few times, but I never got a real feel for his character. If Trask hadn’t been played by somebody with at least as much presence as Peter Dinklage he would have felt like a background character. He wasn’t even fleshed out enough to feel one-note.

What was Mystique’s problem with Trask? Yeah – she said he killed a bunch of mutants. But the only mutants we saw die were the ones at the beginning of the movie that didn’t really die. I had no feel for Mystique’s rage and pain. She just seemed like somebody irrationally pursuing a goal. Mystique was established as a thoughtful and sensitive person in First Class. Here she is blinded by her need for revenge to the point where she thinks eliminating one man will change the fate of her people. It’s a massive departure from character that could have been explained by Magneto’s influence, except that he’s been in prison since the end of First Class.

Mystique’s path of vengeance is actually similar to Erik’s, except that we were quite clearly and explicitly shown his motivation and felt every bit of his rage. Every person he tracked down had earned their fate. It would have been fascinating to see a counterpoint to that with Bolivar Trask. The cycle could have been illustrated so clearly – Trask hunting mutants because of some real or perceived wrong, Mystique hunting Trask for the same.

I hate when heroes give up. I hated the way that The Dark Knight Rises gave us 45 minutes of quitter Bruce Wayne. I don’t know why movie makers find that sort of thing so appealing, but I do not. Once we’re past the origin movie, the tired old staple of waiting for the hero to be a hero should be off limits. This time around, not only did we get that tiresome trope, we also had to watch James McAvoy be on the verge of tears for pretty much the whole movie. There’s not one scene where his eyes aren’t brimming and about to spill over. And we never got a great feel for why he quit. Once again – the movie tells us that his students were drafted and he started using McCoy’s serum so that he could walk and block out the psychic babble. But that was this whole weird story point that came out of nowhere. In First Class Charles is very much the master of his powers. We know that it takes an immense amount of control, but we never get a sense that he is tortured by them. Now all of a sudden it’s so bad that he gives up on his people? I just could not accept this whiny quitter of a Professor X.

So just to recap – Professor X, Mystique, and Bolivar Trask all had motivations that felt like we were just handed notecards before the movie that described how things were.
Here are a few other things that took me out of the movie:

What’s up with Kitty being able to send brains back in time?

Why is Wolverine old in the future but everybody else – Iceman, Kitty, Magneto, Professor X, Colossus – looks pretty much the same?

Magneto is not a stupid man. If he was able to take control of the Sentinels, why not just use them to exterminate everybody at the press conference and make it look like Trask’s fault? Why pick up a stadium and fly in, making it clear that a mutant was responsible? I get that it’s the sort of thing that comic book Magneto would have done in a 1973 comic book, but that sort of thing doesn’t fly in modern movies. And yes – he was going to blow up two entire naval fleets in the last movie, but that was an immediate reaction to a threat. *There is an update to this paragraph and viewpoint at the end of the post. Rather than delete this I have left it intact to show that I am, indeed, capable of having wrong first impressions and changing my opinion.*

Speaking of it being Trask’s fault, why was Nixon just sort of mildly miffed at Trask when his killer robots started gunning down humans on the White House lawn? I’ve seen Cliff Huxtable have sterner talks with Theo.

Oh – and I also had trouble with how willing Magneto was to kill Mystique. 
 
There was so much murder in this movie. This is more personal taste than an actual problem, but I think the horrors of the Sentinel apocalypse (little “a”) could have been gotten across just as well without all of the graphic “Colossus getting torn in half” scenes. There was also far too much cursing. Totally unnecessary. Lil’ Troublemaker wanted to see this, but that isn’t going to happen.

I’ll get into what was awesome about Quicksilver – and there was a lot – in a bit. But I had a big problem with their handling of his relation to Magneto. Pietro (or Peter in this) Maximoff is Magneto’s son. Period. It’s a defining characteristic. If you don’t want him to be Magneto’s son, use another speedster mutant. But if he is Magneto’s son, you don’t explain it with a stupid fucking line like, “My mom used to know a guy that could control metal.” Just save the reveal for later. More movies are coming. If it had to be addressed in this one, a simple look of shock on Peter’s mother’s face when she saw Magneto on the news would have gotten the job done. I also didn’t dig the “I know a guy” introduction. It was the same thing they did with Gambit in Origins and it felt cheap and lazy then, too. I’m sure the long-lived Logan knows lots of guys, but why are they all so young? 
 
Side Note: I’m kidding. I realize Quicksilver doesn’t really count here, as Logan would have known his older self from the future. But now that I think about it, wouldn’t it have been cool to use Peter as a plot device to get Magneto to calm down instead of just thrusting him into the story and then ejecting him unceremoniously? “We’re at a turning point for the fate of homo sapiens superior. Go on home now and good luck with all of that.”

I didn’t like Wolverine in this movie. He was just a little too cool. We never got to see any real intensity from him like we’ve seen in the other movies. I felt like his attitude undermined the seriousness of the plot a bit. He was a little too happy-go-lucky for me. Well, up until the whole bit where he got wrapped up in rebar and drowned and requisitioned by William Stryker/Mystique.

I think I also feel a bit like we’re missing a movie. Or three. There’s so much change of status quo between First Class and DoFP that doesn’t feel earned – it feels like, “This is how we want things, but they don’t work with how we left them last time, but deal with it.” I almost wonder if it was a mistake to mix familiar X-Men with Blink and Bishop. The future scenes didn’t feel impactful to me. They were awesome and the way that the team worked together was one of the coolest fucking things I have ever seen in a movie, but I didn’t feel anything. I think it almost might have been better to spend a little bit of time with unfamiliar mutants, get to know them through battle, and then have the reveal that they’re working with Magneto and Professor X. An awful lot of this movie seemed to have the story serving the characters that Singer chose to use rather than vice versa.

I feel like we needed a couple more adventures to flesh out the idea of the X-Men. Now it’s just a dream that Charles Xavier gave up on after a couple of years and wouldn’t have gone back to without interference from his future self. This story has undermined the strength of the man. And the thing is, just like with Nolan’s Bat movies, no room was left for the audience to assume there had been any such adventures. The time is accounted for. So not only do we not get adventures with things like the First Class team battling Krakoa (something I really would have liked to see); the possibility of such adventures even existing has been eliminated. Of course, we find out that we won’t be seeing such things anyway because the direction of the franchise is now forward.

As unhappy as I am with Days of Future Past, there were some truly awesome moments and events that were definitive X-Men adaptations. 
 
At the start of the movie I had massive nerd chills. HOLY FUCK THAT IS BISHOP. HOLY FUCK THAT IS BLINK. LOOK AT COLOSSUS TOTALLY COLOSSUS-ING OUT. I was giddy. And that was a feeling that hadn’t happened often with the other X-Men movies, no matter how much I might have enjoyed them. Wolverine’s battle in the X-Mansion in X2, Cyclops’ unrestrained optic blast in X-Men, and Magneto’s prison escape in X2 are some of the comparable moments. As I mentioned above, the teamwork of the future X-Men was fantastic and about as perfect as I could imagine such a thing being. Blink, Bishop, Colossus, and all the rest working together was awe-inspiring. For the first time in one of these movies we got a real feel for just how powerful and well-trained a team of X-Men could be. 
 
Jennifer Lawrence was outstanding. Mystique was the one character that I had real empathy for and it was all due to Lawrence’s acting and emoting from under that blue makeup. I may have complained about the way her character’s arc was portrayed, but she took the ball and ran with it. Then did some splits and a flip and a somersault. Also she was nice to look at, but I am a professional and also probably old enough to be her dad in certain parts of the South, so I won’t comment on that.

More than that, Mystique’s central role in the movie was a great call. It was the one thing that felt like a true continuation of First Class. And her fight scenes were fantastic. The movie had me believing that this naked chick could take out a room full of armed, trained men. I would love to see a solo movie adapting Brian K. Vaughn’s Mystique comic book; though I think that’s unlikely with the way DoFP ended.

Evan Peters was also outstanding. His portrayal of Quicksilver wasn’t quite asshole-y enough, but he did have an arrogance and attitude that felt right. And the scene – you know which scene – was easily the best thing in the movie. It was one of those moments of adaptive perfection where you think, “YES. That is exactly how that should look and how he should act.” It felt like Peter David was on set telling them how to do it.

I loved Jean and Scott at the end. I hated how Cyclops went out in The Last Stand and I am generally always pleased to see Famke Janssen. I am very hopeful that these two will be appearing in future installments. I love the weird triangle between them and Logan. And I feel like James Marsden’s portrayal of stiff ol’ Scott Summers was underrated. I want the guy to have another chance to do his thing.

People keep talking about how Bryan Singer erased The Last Stand and Origins and that that was part of the point of the movie. Well, he also erased the first two films and The Wolverine. But more than anything it felt to me like he was erasing First Class. He was taking the bits of that movie that he felt were important or good and transplanting them into his X-Men universe. The only characters that were held over from that excellent movie were Magneto, Professor X, Beast, and Mystique. And guess what? Those were all used in Singer’s X-movies. Yeah – Havok showed up for a second. That character that we got to know and understand in First Class got just a couple of minutes of screen time in DoFP before… I don’t even know what happened to him. He flew off in a plane.

It seems to me like Singer wanted his franchise back after blowing it with two other genre movies (Superman Returns and Jack the Giant Killer). And don’t get me wrong – the man nailed it with X-Men and X2 and shares responsibility with David Goyer and Sam Raimi for the fantastic deluge of comic book movies we have been experiencing for the last decade-plus. But Matthew Vaughn revitalized a franchise that many had written off due to the perceived failure of The Last Stand and the utter horribleness that was Origins. He put a thoughtful, character-driven touch on things while still providing huge, fantastic action. None of the other X-movies had felt as unique and special as First Class and it was a breath of fresh air. It felt like maybe our mutants had a chance to compete with the Avengers.

And I understand that Singer was a producer and was credited as a writer on First Class. But without having any inside information I feel like that film is all Matthew Vaughn. It’s so substantially different.

As much as I didn’t like DoFP, It didn’t turn me off of the franchise. I have hope for future installments. I think now that this sloppy transition back to Singer’s world is complete we might be able to get back to business. At the end of Days of Future Past we are left with a fresh start for the franchise. The only portions of the movie universe left intact are First Class and parts of Origins (the decent parts, thankfully). The path forward is uncluttered by continuity issues and Singer and company are free to pursue whatever stories they wish. I don’t know if we go forward from where Wolverine woke up or from 1973. The movie ended with everything hunky dory at the Xavier school of the future, then went straight to ol’ En Sabah Nur floating pyramid pieces around. Was that in the distant past or 1973 or older Wolverine’s present?

After-credits scene note: Wouldn’t it have been cool if the appearance of Apocalypse had been a direct result of the X-Men’s time-meddling? They removed the Sentinel threat but inadvertently created another? That could still happen, but I doubt it.

I didn’t realize that kid was actually supposed to be Apocalypse. I thought they were playing fast and loose with Ozymandias.

I want to see this movie again. If there’s one thing I want you guys to take away from this post, it’s that I didn’t want to dislike this movie. I desperately want to like it. I’m not trying to convince anybody to not like it. I envy those that do. Furthermore, despite not liking it I am thrilled that it performed so well. I want more X-Men movies. The X-Men and Batman are my two major comic book passions. As much as I don’t want bad X-Men movies, I don’t want anything to harm the franchise. So much has been done right so far that I can deal with a little wrong. So much of the casting is spot-on and so many of the actors have just owned their roles. 
 
But at the end of the day (or the post, as it were) I have to consider Days of Future Past a successful mis-step. It reworked continuity into a new shape that can be moved forward, but did it in the laziest, sloppiest way possible. In the end it worked, but getting there was ugly.

3 out of 5

Yes – I know that score seems a little high for something that I claimed “sucked”. I still feel like it sucked, but the bottom line is that Days of Future Past was successful at doing what it set out to do – establishing a new continuity to revitalize the franchise and open it up to the future. Now we just have to hope that Bryan Singer’s hand can guide it in the right direction, which is a whole other concern when he has the executives at FOX to contend with.
I say this with all sincerity – good luck, Mr. Singer.

*Update to an above paragraph*

My initial reaction to Magneto flying a stadium onto the White House lawn and making a big scene that would invariably turn the entire planet against mutants was to not like it. I thought it was a ridiculous move when he could have simply had the Sentinels under his control slaughter all of the humans and make it look like it was Trask’s fault, thereby derailing the Sentinel program and effectively eliminating one major threat to his people. However, after talking to some folks I have realized that that’s exactly what Magneto does. He wants everything to be this huge statement about the power of mutants, often to the detriment of his cause. It’s his blind spot. So I was wrong there. After watching the movie again I hope to discover I was wrong about more things. But I still hate whiny Professor X.

4 comments:

  1. Liked your review, and I share some of the same thoughts about the film. Like you, I'm more interested in how the future installments will play out than I am in this one. It was interesting, but I just don't agree with the popular assessment that this was the best.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the review! And yeah - I am excited about where the franchise could go now. I just wish Singer wasn't going to be part of it.

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  2. I am sooooo glad I'm not the only one who disliked this movie. Now, I didn't hate it, but there was nothing in it that was special to me (except seeing Halle Berry's Storm killed, I loved that).
    This is also was not a case of being too excited for the film, because I had very little hope for this movie, and left feeling that it met my expectations were met.
    First Class was a pleasant surprise. I didn't see it in the theater because I was sick of Fox's X-men movies, but when I saw it on video I loved it. It is actually my favorite movie in the franchise. I was very apprehensive about Singer's return, because there are a lot of things I don't like about his direction, and this very much was a Bryan Singer X-men film.
    I didn't hate the movie, but it doesn't leave me excited to see any future movies either.

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    1. I think they left things open for some great future stories, I just don't know that they'll end up being any better than this one was.

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